Bandages found in restaurants’ food

By Shannon Smith

Fast food offers a quick alternative for students on the go. To some, it is tasty; to others, it is convenient; to the unfortunate few that fall victim to health code violations, it is potentially dangerous.

Lauren Coleman, senior in LAS, was one of the unfortunate. On Feb. 8, Coleman said she was shocked to discover a used bandage in her French fries, which she purchased from McDonald’s in the Food Court of the Illini Union.

“I was really, really, really, really disgusted,” Coleman said.

Coleman said she took the contaminated fries back to the restaurant, where she showed the manager what had happened. The manager gave Coleman her money back, along with fresh food and fresh fries. She noticed a difference in the way the food was prepared, though.

“The second time they cooked my food – after I complained – they put on gloves to cook my food,” Coleman said. “My mother and my aunt have both worked at McDonald’s growing up. They have protocols for every little thing, so I was really upset with what happened.”

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Coleman said the girl who was wearing the bandage came out and apologized, saying, “I’m sorry, that’s my Band-Aid.” Coleman said knowing who contaminated her food made the situation even more unbearable.

“The McDonald’s on campus is not classy or clean, but it’s the only one on campus,” Coleman said. “If I was at a restaurant that didn’t have a reputation as being unprofessional, it would seem more like a mistake. But it’s like taking a risk when ordering there. It should be investigated because of its reputation.”

“It’s not like we took the fries and put a Band-Aid in it – honest mistake,” said a manager at the Union McDonald’s, who refused to give her name. “We try to avoid that stuff. Sometimes when their hands are greasy, a Band-Aid can slip off.”

The manager said McDonald’s number one priority was food safety. Every manager is trained on how to ensure proper food safety at their restaurant, she said.

The McDonald’s regional manager did not return repeated phone messages seeking comment on Coleman’s experience.

Coleman contacted the McDonald’s customer service line through the phone number provided on the carryout bag. Coleman said they apologized and directed her to the regional manager who is in charge of the McDonald’s in the Union.

“She said the other regional managers were going to have a meeting because of what happened to me,” Coleman said. “People tell me I have a lawsuit on my hands.”

However, Coleman said she has no plans to file a lawsuit against McDonald’s.

Diana Yates, spokeswoman for the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (CUPHD), said the local health district investigates experiences like Coleman’s.

However, Yates said that the CUPHD could not investigate Coleman’s incident because Coleman has not lodged a complaint with the district.

“It’s important that when a person experiences something like that they report it so something can be done,” Yates said. “Obviously a Band-Aid in the food is unacceptable. There is a requirement that if someone is wearing a Band-Aid, they must also wear a finger-coat so this kind of thing would not happen.”

The CUPHD inspects local restaurants, including fast food restaurants. The health district has three categories of restaurant inspection.

“Most restaurants fall in category two,” Yates said. “This means they have a regular inspection once a year. Those in category one will be inspected three times a year. The difference is in how they prepare the food. The more elaborate the preparation, the more chance there is for foodborne illness.”

The CUPHD randomly selects when restaurants will be inspected, and no one from the business is notified before the inspection, Yates said.

Yates said there are different degrees of violations. The severity of the punishment depends on the severity of the violation.

“Many restaurants have a number of violations, but they could be very minor details,” Yates said. “It could be something as small as a mop on the floor when it should be on the wall.”

Yates said when fast food employees don’t wear gloves, it’s not a critical violation.

“A critical violation is something that if not controlled, it could result in someone becoming ill,” she said. “The lack of wearing gloves is not a critical violation. Food handling employees must avoid bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods using suitable utensils, deli tissue or single-use gloves.”

Yates said if a restaurant is unable to fix a critical violation immediately – during the inspection – the CUPHD would suspend the permit of the business and close them down.

“It’s only in extreme circumstances, like sewage backup in the kitchen,” Yates said.

Though such extreme circumstances are rare, several students on campus have been forced to deal with restaurants failing to comply with health codes.

Mahesh Bhat, junior in engineering, said he had an experience that mirrored Coleman’s. Bhat said he too found a used bandage in his food when he was dining at Bombay Grill, 401 E. Green St., over the summer.

“All they did was give me a free meal right there,” Bhat said. “I don’t know if they changed anything or became more stringent about their policies.”

Bhat said he did not see how the cooks could have been wearing gloves if a bandage was able to get into his food.

“I don’t know how often a health inspector goes there, but they should at least use gloves when cooking,” Bhat said.

Like many students on campus, Bhat lives in an apartment and does not have time to cook between classes and other activities. He said his experience has turned him off to the idea of eating at Bombay Grill again.

“I haven’t been to Bombay Grill since then,” Bhat said. “I was disappointed in the fact that I couldn’t go back there because I’m Indian, and I miss eating Indian food.”

Sharma Krishna, owner of Bombay Grill, said he was not aware of the incident.

“I’ve been here since I’ve opened the restaurant, and to my knowledge, no one brought it up,” Krishna said. “We try to maintain our health codes. We’ve been doing this for a long time and we don’t have any problems.”

Krishna said he didn’t think anything like that could happen at his restaurant.

“Broken glass on the plate or something, I could understand that,” he said. “But a Band-Aid in the food, I don’t really take that. When you have a Band-Aid, you should have a glove, and most of my employees do that.”

Krishna said he is confident in his restaurant’s ability to maintain health standards. He said the restaurant has always done excellent in inspections, which are done every three to six months.

A successful inspection did not prevent Bhat’s experience. Coleman said she too is very disappointed to be a victim of failing health codes.

“I like McDonald’s,” Coleman said. “I don’t eat it frequently, but when I do eat it, I plan on intentionally enjoying it.”

Coleman said that, as a corporation, McDonald’s took the incident seriously. However, as an individual establishment, she said McDonald’s at the Union did not treat the violation as critical.

Coleman said that in general the experience just made her more cautious.

“When you order your food, be very careful,” Coleman said. “Before you walk away, stand there and inspect your food. It’s just a lesson for me and everyone on campus. Look in your bag because there could be someone’s dentures or hair or Band-Aid inside there.”